Washougal gymnast embraces different vault

Sophomore Katie Stevens is reaching new heights as a Panther pole vaulter

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Washougal sophomore Katie Stevens competed at the state tournament in gymnastics this year and now hopes to pole vault her way to state in track and field.

Washougal High sophomore Katie Stevens may be relatively new to the sport of track and field, but her natural ability in the pole vault already has her soaring to the top of the standings in the 2A Greater St. Helens League.

Stevens vaulted 10 feet 3 inches — 13 inches higher than the second-place finisher — to win first place in the pole vault at the John Ingram Twilight Meet at Columbia River High School on April 12.

“Before last year, I didn’t even know what pole vaulting was,” Stevens said.

That all changed when Washougal head track and field and football coach Dave Hajek approached Stevens and her family.

“Her brother played football for me and I know her parents, so I talked them into having her try the pole vault,” Hajek said.

Stevens had already proved her athleticism as a gymnast, competing for 10 years in that sport and earning first team league honors this year and qualifying for the 2A gymnastics state meet in vault, beam and floor.

“He (Hajek) told me gymnasts are really good at the pole vault because they have good upper body strength, so I tried it last year and liked it because I was pretty good at it,” Stevens said. During her freshman year, Stevens went 8 feet in the pole vault. This year, as a sophomore, she is already at 10 feet 3 inches, a mark that is third best in school history. The Washougal record is 10 feet, 7 inches.

“She improves at every meet, so we are hoping she can break the school record by the end of this season,” Hajek said.

In pole vaulting, gymnasts have a leg up on the competition

Many aspects of pole vaulting can relate to gymnastics, according to Hajek.

“They (gymnasts) have that body control where they know just when to swing their legs out and up, and it really helps,” Hajek said.

Stevens views the pole vault as a combination of the uneven bars and the vault.

“Pole vaulting is very similar to hurdling onto the springboard (on the gymnastics vault) and the bars are similar because of the swinging motion, which just happens to be the exact body position you need to pole vault,” Stevens said.

One thing Stevens is still working on is overcoming the fear that surrounds the challenging sport of pole vaulting.

“It’s a bit scarier than gymnastics because on the bars all you have to do is flip and land, but with this (pole vaulting) you are holding onto something and you have to think about when to let go. And if your hands slip, that’s not good. And the pole bends so your body goes down and then up again, there is so much to think about,” Stevens said.

Stevens is not the only local gymnast turned pole vaulter. Grace Gordon, a champion balance beam gymnast from Columbia River High, placed third in the pole vault — just behind Stevens.

Panther girls win John Ingram Twilight Meet

Joining Stevens with wins at the Columbia River meet was senior distance runner Amelia Pullen, who earned a personal best time of 10 minutes, 59.84 seconds in the 3,200 meters — the second fastest time in the 2A division this season.

Aurora Espinoza-Chaney also joined winning Panthers in the 100 meter sprint, with a time of 12.90. Long jumper junior Gracie Dolan finished second in the long jump, going 16 feet even after coming back from a back injury.

“I’m finally getting back into the groove. It’s nice to be back in the 16s,” Dolan said.

The Washougal girls took home the first-place trophy.

On the boys side, Gabriel Dinnell ran a personal best to win the 1,600 in 4:29.45. In the 3,200, Dinnell already has the fastest time among Washington state 2A schools this season. Senior Jackson Keyser won the 3,200, and Koy Chaston crossed the line first in the 800.

The Panthers’ top sprinter, Ryan Davy, didn’t participate at Columbia River because he was invited to the Willamette Falls Invitational in Oregon City, Oregon, where he finished fourth against some of the best sprinters in the region from 42 different schools. Senior Kiara “KiKi” Callie also made the trip to Oregon City and finished third in the 100-meter hurdles and the 400-meter hurdles.